The journey to gaining an understanding of reality was a long and arduous one for me. You might say that as I set out on this journey of understanding God and my Christian beliefs, I found all of the pot holes any one could imagine. In fact, these pot holes nearly stopped me on several occasions.
Reading “Theology A Very Short Introduction” by David Ford, was quite helpful in providing me an opportunity to not only revisit that slice of my life; but more importantly, it also gave me an accurate verbal accounting and description of my journey of nearly 12 years.
I believe that Ford is correct when he says that, “for those in a state of crisis or transition in their faith, theology in the broadest sense will be unavoidable as they wrestle with the big questions.” This statement identifies the beginning of my personal journey. Shortly after my grandmother died near the end of my sophomore year in college, I went into what I now call a spiritual lull. I was not opposed to Christianity; but I also would admit, that I had just as many questions about God and my faith as any non-churched person would have had.
Rather than asking those questions in the church, I enrolled in a Religion and Philosophy course. This course combined secular learning with an attempt at practicing theology. As you would imagine the instructor was nothing more than a bully Philosophy teacher who gleefully proclaimed to us that ‘he ate Christians for breakfast and lunch. You’ll understand when I tell you that this was the class from hell. For example, one rather memorable class my Philosophy teacher used as Plato’s Allegory of the cave to prove that religion and specifically Christianity, serves as those chains on the people who were in the darkness of the cave. He suggested that the more we are willing to be freed from religion, the sooner they could begin to see the light of possibilities which life holds for every enlightened person outside. Ford would label my experience in that class as Type 1 theology, which belongs to the postmodern period.
After nearly giving up on my pursuit for theological answers, my next two attempts at theology were equally foundation rattling. First, I thought that by enrolling in a “Christian College” I would find the answers that I was seeking. However, what I found was that all brands of Christian theology are not equal. For instance, in my very first theology class I was taught that the scriptures were not inerrant, and that the miracles as we know them are nothing more than mythology. My question was isn’t that a lie? And why do we need faith then? Can we even trust God if we can’t trust the bible?
A bit later, I had my first seminary experience. This was also the first encounter with Black Liberation Theology. I discovered that while I still wanted to know more about God, truth and now my purpose in life, this seminary had a very aggressive agenda. They intended to indoctrinate me in order to become an extreme Black Liberation preacher. Ford is correct when he assesses that, “you are not engaging in Christian theological discussion: you have your mind made up already and are accepting those bits of Christianity that fit your framework.”
In the end, I went back to the place that I should have started with, the church where I grew up. When I did return, I found that my grandfather seemed much wiser. As a result of him and his many prayers, I was rattled; but not broken in my faith. He helped me to find a seminary that challenged me by using faith seeking understanding’, basically trusting the main lines of classic Christian testimony to God and the Gospel to view the world.
While I had a wild ride in order to reach this point in my life, I had my grandfather and others who stayed tethered to me so that I didn’t become a theological casualty. My question is, is there anything that can be done to improve how we help High School and College age young people to enter theological dialogue in the church rather than some of the places these conversations are currently held?
Ford, David (2000-02-24). Theology: A Very Short Introduction (p. 27). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.